The formula for hacking one’s own stove-top double boiler is simple, reliable, consistent: pot, boiling water, bowl, in that order. The boiling water gently, gradually heats the bottom of the bowl and whatever is in there. Which, let’s face it, is probably chocolate.
Owning one’s own double boiler is cool and all, but they fall into the category of kitchen appliances that are single-use and take up too much space. Here’s lookin’ at you, waffle iron! It’s not to say that a double boiler is useless. Quite the contrary, they’re actually superbly useful. It’s just that there’s an easier way to pull one together—with stuff you already have in your kitchen.
They’re ideal for breaking chocolate down into a silky ganache or whisking up a polenta that’s creamier than most. We love pulling a double boiler together at moment’s notice, a two-second kitchen MacGyver maneuver. In fact, we have a (delightfully retro) how-to on our very own YouTube channel (2012 was another time):
Simple enough, right? Of course. Or so I thought.
It wasn’t until earlier this week that I learned of a trick that’s poised to completely change the way I double boil. Forever. And it’s all about a chopstick.
I’ve got to credit Claire Lower, of Lifehacker, with this one. She inserts a chopstick or a wooden spoon (basically anything long, thin, and heat resistant) in between the bowl and the saucepan to allow for a slight crack. This keeps the steam from building up in the bottom and becoming volatile, exploding melted chocolate and boiling water all over you. The little fissure releases any pressure and safeguards against potential accidents. "I saw my teacher do it when I was taking classes last month at La Pitchoune! I like it because you don't have to worry about steam build up, the bowl getting stuck on there, burning myself with steam," she told me over email.
Now, I’ve constructed many a successful double boiler without this trick, but I still think she’s on to something. Keeping this itty gap open isn’t necessary, yet the purpose it serves feels so obvious, so essential, that I don’t think I’ll ever cobble together another double boiler again without tossing in a chopstick, too. Boiling hot water warming the bottom of a glass or metal bowl is mostly innocuous, but you know what they say: better safe than sorry.
Have you ever tried this trick? Tell us if you have (or haven’t!) in the comments below.